Mdou Moctar Takes His Peerless Guitar Rock to New Heights on 'Afrique Victime'

BY Vish KhannaPublished May 17, 2021

In his native Tamasheq, one of the Tuareg languages, Mahamadou Souleymane (a.k.a. Mdou Moctar) sings the following on "Chismiten": "To become a better person, you need to stop being so jealous and insecure / I have observed these qualities and I'm unimpressed."

In English, on the page, it's stark and simple enough; almost a parental scolding. But from the mouth, mind and soul of one of the greatest guitarists and performers working today, with his incredible band blasting into a groove beneath him and echoing his words, it's transcendent and profound. Such is the case throughout Afrique Victime, a stunning Mdou Moctar record that shows us sides of the band we've only had glimpses of in the past. 

Following 2019's brilliant, psych-tinged breakthrough, Ilana (The Creator), lead guitarist Souleymane, rhythm guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane, bassist Michael Coltun and drummer Souleymane Ibrahim again go for a big, rollicking sound, but also take on more acoustic, less frenetic arrangements, showcasing gorgeous melodies and harmonies, which are alluringly hypnotic.

"Tala Tannam," for instance, is so tender, its warmth of expression is almost tangible. The band is busy here, with fingers and various body parts in constant motion to create this inviting, textured sound, but it's also a relatively relaxed mode, where they can coo, "My love, no matter where I go, you're always on my mind / I treasure you / You know I never want to see you in tears," and it comes across focused and sincere.

The devotional and romantic work in tandem with sociopolitical outspokenness. Mdou Moctar represents Agadez, a rural, desert village in Niger. Since making a name for himself and his band, Moctar has done whatever he can to better the material conditions of other Tuareg people and aspiring regional musicians, and that mindset bleeds through Afrique Victime.

On the stirring title track, he sings: "From prison to Nobel prize / They ceded to Mandela / Africa is a victim of so many crimes / If we stay silent it will be the end of us / Why is this happening?" It all sounds so solemnly forlorn, but the song begins with a lightning bolt of guitar before the whole band provides an anthemic, parade march of a jam to match the oratory. Elsewhere, Nigerien political revolutionary and musician Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou is feted on the stirring "Ya Habibti" and again on "Layla," which does vaguely (and briefly) interpolate its namesake song's rather famous guitar part, while crying out in anguish for someone by name.

Such nods to Western culture are just that. Afrique Victime is a decidedly Tuareg expression, furthering the distinction that Mdou Moctar holds as one of the most exciting, innovative and provocative artists to emerge from the area. Beyond that, he and his band are making truly tremendous guitar rock in a manner that is peerless in this era, and from anywhere on the globe.
(Matador Records)

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